It doesn’t take much to deescalate a situation, just a simple, honest admission of guilt and a heartfelt apology.

There is an art to it though and occasionally it will take more than “I’m sorry” to set something right, but in the recent few weeks I’ve received various communications with companies, many of which unsolicited, that have restored my faith in the world of online customer service.

Let’s take a look at a few examples and discuss how these emails and tweets have mastered the art of apologising.

Picturehouse Cinemas

The arthouse cinema chain has been having a difficult time lately with its newly revamped purchase system, although in my experience the problem just lies in returning customers getting used to the new navigation.

Despite this, Picturehouse has decided to offer a thorough and comprehensive apology, as it felt that it hadn’t communicated these changes properly.

The following email was sent to all Picturehouse subscribers a couple of weeks ago, with the simple and effective subject line “we owe you an apology”.

It admits that the amount of negative feedback it received was “huge”, Picturehouse then addresses the concerns of the feedback and directly answers common questions such as “why was this done in the first place?”

The most positive aspect of this apology is that Picturehouse has promised to use the feedback to improve the website once more, making the ticketing system easier and also offering a concrete timeframe for the improvements.

Picturehouse also states that it will be far better in communicating changes to its website in the future.

This was an unsolicited email and the recipient actually had no problem with the ticketing system, but this is a great piece of email marketing as it helped spread positive awareness. 

I also especially liked the relevant use of the blundering Laurel and Hardy image and the inclusion of a bright call-to-action where users can change their email preferences.

Norman Records

I’ve written before about Norman Records and its commitment to great ecommerce customer service and its down-to-Earth tone of voice. This also extends to when things go wrong for the store.

At 00:01pm last Saturday, Norman Records just like all qualifying independent record stores, was allowed to release its remaining Record Store Day stock online.

As expected, the rush to order this strictly limited edition stock caused a meltdown, not just for Norman but for pretty much every independent record store online.

The difference is that Norman Records took time and effort to keep communicating with its customers as it was happening.

This is the Twitter conversation I had with the store between Midnight and at some point past 1am.

It’s quite the commitment for a social and ecommerce team already pushed to the limit.

The following morning at 9am I also received this email apologising for the meltdown.

It’s a heartwarming touch that reassures disappointed users that there is still stock available, and the email was sent early enough to give them a fair chance of getting what they wanted.

Further to this, Norman Records published an update on its website yesterday explaining what happened on the night, how it will ensure it won’t happen again and has also offered to compensate those who have been affected.

Milan Records

I received this email from Milan Records couple of weeks ago, just in the nick of time as I was on the verge of sending my own email complaint.

The item I had ordered was a strictly limited edition record, that at the time of ordering was assured to be in stock. I had also ordered it a good three months in advance.

However I was sent an email more than a month later saying that due to overwhelming demand, the item had sold out, which I felt was pretty unfair.

Then came this follow up email.

A sincere personal apology, a time-frame when I can expect my item and most impressively a free gift.

Now the ‘gift’ may only be a download, but this is still a great bonus as its entirely relevant to the album I ordered. It’s a thoughtful token and one that I genuinely appreciated.

It also comes at no real cost to the company, and encourages me to visit the site again.

Naked Wines

This example is 18 months old, but it is an absolute masterclass in humour, self-deprecation and an unashamed invitation for brutally honest feedback.

Here’s the initial email.

You don’t have to follow the link to give feedback if you don’t want to, however the anchor text “Dear Naked Wines, you’re rubbish because…” really does persuade you to click through.

What follows is a short multiple-choice form where you can offer advice on how to improve the service for future customers.

Again, the honesty and humour used here really compels you to complete the form.

Then when you get to the last page, Naked Wines has disarmed you with its contriteness and almost masochistic desire to be punished, that it’s almost impossible to stay mad at them anymore.

Lessons other brands can learn

Based on these examples, here are some tips that can help other companies pour water on almost any fiery situation.

  • Apologise at the earliest possible convenience.
  • Apologise to all your users, not just the affected ones, this can help spread positive sentiment.
  • Try to be personal, perhaps use data to include the recipient’s name.
  • Offer a free gift, discount or some other token of appreciation.
  • Avoid phrases like  “I’m sorry you if feel that way” or “I’m sorry it appears that something has gone wrong”. People hate that.
  • Be genuine, heartfelt and immediate.
  • Tell people when a situation will be fixed.
  • Don’t handle complaints like Protein World for the love of all that’s good in the world. 

For further tips, check out how to improve your customer social service.